By Michelle Voznyuk, Marketing Consultant at Heinz Marketing

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

We all know communication is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. This is true not only for personal relationships, but professional ones, as well. When working in a B2B or consulting setting, there can be a lot of challenges when one side feels like the other isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. Here are some tips that can reduce tension in your client relationships, help you better communicate, and set you up for smooth sailing.

1. Set clear expectations from the get-go.

When it comes to new B2B relationships, it’s best to set clear expectations right off the bat. This will ensure you understand what the client is expecting from you and vice-versa. It’s best to start these conversations off when you’re putting together the statement of work, to make sure you aren’t selling someone an apple when they’re really expecting an orange. I then suggest re-iterating these expectations by thoroughly going through the signed SOW in your kick-off call. This is especially important for the team taking on the work so everyone is on the same page moving forward.

2. Establish trust as a SME.

As you dive deeper into your relationship, it’s important to establish trust through demonstrating yourself as a subject matter expert. After all, they are hiring you for a reason – they feel you have the expertise to handle the work they want you to complete. In my experience, when the client comes to the realization you can help make their lives easier, they will give you more space to do your job. This creates trust that helps carry the relationship into the future.

3. Create a healthy space for feedback.

Feedback is essential when it comes to client relationships. Feedback allows you to work more efficiently and effectively throughout the engagement. You should gather feedback from the client and share your own. This might include what went well, what didn’t go well, and what steps need to be taken next for that month, sprint, quarter, etc. Be open to the client sharing their feedback with you and challenge yourself to give them feedback as well – even when it’s hard. In the end, this will allow you to work together in harmony.

4. Learn how to say no…without actually saying no.

I believe one of the biggest skills you can learn in a B2B relationship is how to say no without actually saying it. In settings where you’re just starting out or working with a larger business, clients may try to push the envelope by trying to get you to do work that falls outside of the SOW. This can make you feel like you have to give in because they could get up and leave at any moment. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to suggest that by taking on another task, it could cause current deadlines or projects to suffer. This makes the client second guess their ask because higher priority items might be put on hold. Another way to handle this is by suggesting you can give it a try but if it’s “outside of your wheelhouse”, meaning you don’t have the expertise to complete that task, say so. If they want the task done properly, they’ll redirect it to the appropriate party.

At the end of the day, it’s all about striking a balance between providing a great client experience, while also sticking to your guns. Be clear and confident about your product/service offering, values, and expectations when entering into a new client relationship. Communicate regularly, provide constructive feedback, and push back when you feel the original agreement is slipping away. By implementing these tips, you can ensure that both you and the client stay happy throughout the duration of the engagement.